White Crane

Translations

Image: Left, a white crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus) singing in a field near Wuhan; center, a black-necked crane wandering the walkways of the Potala Palace c. 1910; right, the slaughter of what was likely the last white crane to ever step foot in Tibet.

[This poem first appeared on Radio Free Asia on September 26, 2017.]

White Crane

  

That afternoon, sunlight

passed through the Tibetan-style latticed window

and entered, its intensity diluted

suitably nostalgic.

 

Kasho Lumdup Namgyal,

who is an expert at writing revolving verse,

gave a talk, his language wonderfully noble

as he spoke in detail about Gayatso’s[1] poetry.

He emphasized the prophetic poem

about the trung trung karpo:[2]

           ... please lend me your wings

               I won't fly far

               just to Lithang and back.

 

And throughout his lecture he gestured humbly,

lifting one palm and pointing to his back,

as if inviting me to follow him.

 

“In the past, to the north of Lhasa

there once existed the Je Rak River,[3]

a continuous stretch of fine sand

the likes of which I’m afraid

no longer exist in the whole world.

Pure white cranes would arrive in the summer,

and in the winter they would leave,

some of them dancing,

some of them alighting,

and the hearts of those who saw them

bloomed with delight and contentment.

 

“The sixth Dalai Lama looking out

from the highest terrace of the Phodrang Potala[4]

must have often seen this kind of scene

and in this way he clearly understood beauty.

Thus, while surrounded by the perils of impermanence,

he chose the white crane to convey

the message of reincarnation.”

 

A sad smile floated to the surface of his face

and he lifted his other arm

as if he lacked the strength to flap his wings:

 

“Even during the 1950s,

as my friends and I walked the road to school,

we also saw white cranes flying and landing.

We imitated them, our arms stretched out in mirth,

chasing each other—it was the game we loved the most.

But after that,

            after that we never saw them again…”

 

That afternoon, sunlight

passed through the Tibetan-style latticed window

and entered, its intensity diluted

suitable for a broken heart.

 

 

Woeser

August 20, 2017

Beijing

 

Translated by Ian Boyden

September 23, 2017

San Juan Island, WA

 

[1] Tsangyang Gyatso (ཚངས་དབྱངས་རྒྱ་མཚོ, 1683–1706), the sixth Dalai Lama, was a celebrated poet and songwriter, whose verses remain popular to this day.

[2] trung trung kar po (ཁྲུང་ཁྲུང་དཀར་པོ་།): Tibetan word meaning “white crane,” or Siberian crane (Leucogeranus leucogeranus). It is said that Gyatso, predicted that the seventh Dalai Lama would be born in Lithang in Kham, and he wrote this poem:

                        White crane

                        please lend me your wings

                        I won't fly far

                        just to Lithang and back.

Today, the Siberian crane is critically endangered and has been extirpated from Tibet, the only population left exists in western China around Lake Poyang.

[3] Woeser used the Chinese name for this river, 流沙河, which means “Flowing Sand River.” The Tibetan name, བྱེ་རགས།, means “sandy bank.”

[4] Phodrang Potala: the Tibetan name for the Potala Palace, the traditional home of the Dalai Lamas and seat of Tibetan government until 1959.

Constellations of Humanity

Each luminous dot on this map represents one reader of this poem. As the number of readers increases, the stars begin to cluster and form an increasingly detailed constellation. My intent is to show how brightly a poem glows across our world. I welcome your light.

Other Contributors

Other

Translation

Projects